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Making your mark in retail space: Four things you need to know in 2013

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Staying true to your brand, while at the same time evolving to meet the changing needs of your customers, can be a difficult thing to do. Today's fluctuating economy has had its impact on customer shopping behaviors, sending retailers on a race to keep up.

So how do you continue to meet your customers' needs, while at the same time staying true to your brand?

Following are four things you need to know as you evolve your brand and make your mark on the retail space in 2013:

1. Evolving is not an option, it's a "must."

First and foremost, it's important to understand that our customers' lifestyles are changing. Take the furniture business, for example: Unfinished furniture in the 1970s and 1980s was very popular, because it represented profound value. Today, more men and women hold full-time jobs, leaving less time to finish furniture. Convenience is now a top priority for our consumer, so our business needed to change.

As retailers everywhere face new challenges associated with our nation's fluctuating economy, businesses are seeing a shift in customer purchasing behavior. As a retailer, it is important to find new ways to deliver convenience and value, while at the same time staying true to your brand.

2. Today's customer is more sophisticated than ever.

With unlimited resources available at the click of a mouse, customers know what they want and exactly what the competition looks like. To stay competitive, become a student of your business. Simply turning the wheel day in and day out won't help you evolve.

Read about the changing business landscape, shop your competition, talk to other retailers and, most importantly — be present. Some of the most successful business owners are those who have face-to-face contact and listen directly to their customers and front line associates on a regular basis.

3. Your associates know more than you realize.

Our associates, at all levels, are our greatest asset. They're the ones hitting the pavement every day, interacting with customers, selling our product. They know our customers and our product — perhaps better than we do — and chances are, they shop our competition.

Invest in relationship building with these teams. Invite them to participate in company brainstorms and planning. Empower them by creating a positive work environment that invites them to contribute. Make your associates a top priority and they'll become your most loyal brand ambassadors. And who knows, you might learn a thing or two about your customer that you didn't know before.

4. You can't be everything to everyone.

Continued change is inevitable and evolving your business is essential — but above all else, remember to stay true to your brand. Know what changes are right for your business, and what might steer you off course. Keep business objectives top of mind, and when your goals align with intended changes, recognize that the process of evolution is incremental.

Start by identifying areas where you can do better, such as improving older stores, introducing a new product line or expanding a popular display. Don't lose sight of reality and know you can't be all things to all people.

In 2013, we can expect to see lifestyles becoming increasingly more mobile and continued economic fluctuations. The same tenets of convenience and value will be important to the consumer. As you make changes to your business that better reflect the needs of your customer, remember that knowing your customer and staying true to your brand will lay the foundation for growth in the coming years.

Ted Bernstein is president at Just Cabinets Furniture & More, which has 19 stores across Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware and is headquartered in Harrisburg.

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